Proposed student-centered space in Reber Building designed to foster teamwork


Karen Thole, department head, mechanical and nuclear engineering, envisions a space in Reber Building for engineering students to get together to work on projects, access technology for homework, or collaborate on research. Other than two small computer labs there has never been a place in the building for students to get work done between classes or meet with teammates to discuss group projects in the evening.

“We need a dedicated student space because we have one thousand juniors and seniors in the department,” Thole said. “Right now we provide them no space to get together, to work together, and to learn from each other.”

To address this need, the department will relocate two research labs to create a student-centered space on the first floor of the Reber Building. The 7,500 square foot E-Knowledge Commons, as the new space will be named, will be designed around the idea of peer-to-peer learning.

The E-Knowledge Commons will be similar to the Tombros and McWhirter Knowledge Commons in the Pattee Library at University Park, which is regularly filled to capacity. The success of the library commons demonstrates a need for more of these spaces on campus. The E-Knowledge Commons in Reber Building will give mechanical and nuclear engineering students a space in close proximity to their classrooms and labs designed with their specific needs in mind. When complete, it will be one of only three spaces on campus that combine technology and study areas in this way.

The E-Knowledge Commons will give students a place to work as teams within a variety of study spaces. Group seating areas and tables will foster interaction among students, while computer labs and a global conferencing room will provide easy access to technology. The Commons will be an inspiring space for studying, learning, and creating, equipped with the resources students need to succeed in today’s competitive global environment.

"Part of what we try to teach our students to do well is to work in teams,” Thole said. Students in mechanical and nuclear engineering spend a lot of time on group work. They have team projects in addition to group-based homework assignments and in-class collaboration.

To encourage these collaborations, five small team study rooms will anchor the proposed E-Knowledge Commons. These rooms will have large monitors to display presentations or other information, and one room will be equipped with video conferencing technology. The space will also have two computer labs as well as a common area with individual workstations and tables for group meetings. Other features include charging stations, lockers, and printers. A renovated lobby, wide open common area, glass walls, and a living wall, a vegetation covered indoor wall, will enhance the space.

The department’s ultimate goal for the project is to build a space where students feel welcome and inspired to succeed. The E-Knowledge Commons will be a community space where students can gather to work, study between classes, and learn from each other.

“I don’t spend much time in Reber and I should because it’s my building, it’s a mechanical engineering building and I only go for class,” said Michael Handy, a senior in mechanical engineering. “A space like this would really bring me closer to my mechanical engineering colleagues.”

“I think the most exciting part about this project is that you are going to have mechanical and nuclear engineering students all in the same area, working on the same projects, and really helping each other succeed,” said Lolo Buonomo, a senior in mechanical engineering. “I think at Penn State that’s what we are about—helping each other get through engineering together.”

You can support this exciting project by making a gift. Several naming opportunities are also available. Visit the E-Knowledge Commons website for more information.


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Shea Bracken

"Part of what we try to teach our students to do well is to work in teams."


Susan Bohna



The Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Penn State is one of the nation’s largest and most successful engineering departments. We serve more than 1,000 undergraduate students and more than 330 graduate students

We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S., M.Eng.) graduate degrees in nuclear engineering and mechanical engineering. MNE's strength is in offering hands-on experience in highly relevant research areas, such as energy, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems.

Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering

137 Reber Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-2519